Master of Celtic art: the designs of George Bain at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh

By Jenni Davidson | 16 November 2011
A picture of a circle containing Celtic knotwork with a Scottish saltire and lion rampant in the centre surrounded by writing in Gaelic and English.
George Bain, Bi-lingual Gaelic and English greeting card© The George Bain Estate
Exhibition: George Bain: Master of Modern Celtic Art, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, until February 13 2012

George Bain is regarded as the father of the modern Celtic art revival. His seminal work, Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction, was first published in 1951 and is still considered the classic guide to the art of the Celts.

A picture of an illustrated cover of a Christmas annual with the words The Holly Bough Xmas 1904 at the top and a picture of Mary holding the baby Jesus and the Three Kings below.
George Bain, The Holly Bough Xmas (1904). Printed paper© The George Bain Estate
Bain was born in Scrabster, Caithness in 1881 and studied at Edinburgh School of Applied Art, Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art. After serving in the First World War he taught art at Kirkcaldy High School, and remained there as Principal Teacher of Art until he retired in 1946.

Although he also painted landscapes of Scotland, Greece and the Balkans, and exhibited in Scotland, London and Paris, the great life's work for which he is remembered is his study of the decorative art of the Picts and the Celts.

Bain devoted himself to unravelling the complex techniques used by the Celts and the Picts on stones, jewellery and illuminated manuscripts. He worked out the mathematical frameworks for constructing Celtic art, which not only enabled people to understand the historical works better, but also to make their own designs.

A picture of a page of a book with pictures of Celtic knotwork on it.
George Bain, Teaching aid illustrating details from the Book of Kells. Coloured ballpoint pen on paper© The George Bain Collection
Celtic Art: The Method of Construction did much to revive interest in Celtic art and has remained popular throughout the modern Celtic art revival, having been in print continuously since 1972.

The exhibition, Master of Modern Celtic Art, will contain a selection of 55 items, including drawings, watercolours, sculpture and jewellery, archival material and objects made to his designs, such as the Celtic 'Hunting' rug. Much of it has never been on public display before.

The items in the exhibition are all from The George Bain Collection of the Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie. The collection was started by a donation to the museum by the Bain family in 1998, and has since been added to with other purchases.

  • Open 10am-5pm (7pm Thursday). Admission free
A pencil drawing of a cart pulled by two oxen with a man behind it.
George Bain, Bullock Wagon, Macedonia (exhibited RSA 1928). Drypoint print with pencil on paper© The George Bain Collection
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